Afghanistan earthquake kills at least 1,000 people, authorities say: 'People are digging grave after grave'
- The temblor struck in a rugged, mountainous region of Afghanistan.
- The earthquake’s tremors were felt over 300 miles by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
- Quakes are relatively common in Afghanistan.
An earthquake rocked eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 1,000 people, injuring 1,500 more and destroying homes and other buildings in the rugged, mountainous region.
Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada told the state-run Bakhtar News Agency the death toll from the magnitude 5.9 temblor near the Pakistani border was likely to rise. Hundreds of homes and other buildings were destroyed, he said.
The quake, centered 25 miles southwest of Khost, struck at about 1:24 a.m. local time, when many people were sleeping in their homes. The European seismological agency estimated the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 300 miles by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Photos from the scene showed rubble and ruins, with some evacuations from the remote area underway via helicopter.
"People are digging grave after grave," Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in Paktika, told DW News.
In one village near Khost, a resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home. Other images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed houses.
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The head of the Bakhtar news agency, Abdul Wahid Rayan, tweeted that at least 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and many people are believed trapped under the rubble. The Afghan Red Crescent Society sent 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen kits to the area, he said.
Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhand pledged $10 million to immediately aid families in Paktika and Khost provinces. He sent a government delegation to the quake-hit areas to monitor the situation of the families of the victims and to start distributing aid.
Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government wrote on Twitter that "we urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe."
Many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the country last year amid the chaotic U.S. military exit. A Taliban official called for international help.
“When such a big incident happens in any country, there is a need for help from other countries,” said Sharafuddin Muslim. “It is very difficult for us to be able to respond to this huge incident.”
In Kabul, the prime minister convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort. U.N. resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, tweeted that "teams are on grounds delivering first aid in affected areas in Paktika, Giyan and Barmal. More help is being mobilized."
Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it wasn't immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif issued a statement saying he was "deeply grieved" by the tragedy.
"People in Pakistan share the grief and sorrow of their Afghan brethren," he said. "Relevant authorities working to support Afghanistan in this time of need."
In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. A 6.1-magnitude earthquake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, another earthquake of the same strength and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.
Contributing: The Associated Press